The Profoto B2

The misunderstood portable strobe

I thought I’d answer an email question regarding the B2 with a post rather than just a private reply. The question was something like this…

Why the B2 instead of the B1 or for that matter the Elinchrom ELB400. The B2 is crazy expensive for what it is.

Let’s start with the umbrella holder. Some people hate the D1/B1/B2/D2 umbrella holder. I honestly have no idea why. I love them, my favorite of any flash head ever. For those not familiar with the particular detail I’m talking about, all of those mentioned lights have umbrella holders that are friction based. Theres no set screw or anything to tighten/loosen. I’ve never had an issue with the friction mount. Don’t even get me started about speedlights where one needs some sort of additional contraption (along with a bunch of other little wobbly contraptions for mount/grip/triggers/etc).

Even my old D1 heads that have had shafts jammed in and removed 1,000 times the umbrella mounts work just like they always have. I’ve also never had an issue with creep, even when mounting the crazy big Umbrella deep XL pointing strait down (I think some people think this is an issue but it’s not on any of my Profoto flash heads). So no set screw to fiddle with, no set screw to loose and honestly I’ve had more issues with creep using various umbrella set screws. What’s more is that although not perfect it puts the head very close to on-axis of the umbrella.

A Picture Is Worth A Bunch Of Words

The Profoto B2 v. Speedlight

I think people don’t understand the Profoto B2 because they’ve not experienced it up close and personal. Take a look at the illustration above. No tricks, no that’s not some sort of prop gear. That’s a real B2 head and pack along side equally real SB-800 and not so big Minolta flash meter. This is why the B2 is so awesome. It’s the size of the package and the size of the head. Sure it’s bigger than a speed light but consider adding what you need to make the two work the same (sorta).

  1. Radio trigger for the speedlight and maybe a cord.
  2. Some sort of shity but heavy umbrella adaptor with shit set screw to get lost or that you need pliers to tighten in to order to hold a large umbrella securely.
  3. A shit-ton of double-A batteries or an external power pack that’s almost as big as the B2 generator.

Do all that and you still have 1/3 or 1/4 or 1/5 the power, long recycle times (relatively at any given power which you’ll be using the speedlight closer to full blast), miserable color and power variations shot to shot let alone color all over the map based on power level. Oh yeah and a bunch of fiddly rickety adaptor shit all Velcro’d together (only half kidding). With batteries, umbrella adaptor, radio, etc. The speedlight is actually heavier on a small boom.

The bottom line is that the B2 hits a size/power/features sweetspot that’s hard to match. The power is no joke, really 250W/s (which seems realistically rated compared to my D1/D2 lights) is typically plenty. If you start splitting it across two heads that might be another matter, especially because you’ll most likely need the extension cord to do anything remotely interesting which drops another 1/3 of the extended head but still sucks the juice from the generator.

Let’s discuss power briefly. Numerically 500 W/s sounds like a lot more than 250 W/s right? Sure it does, that’s like two times the power. Wow, that sounds even more different. The reality is that your typical 500 W/s B1 or D1 or D2 exactly the same ouput running at a numerical 9 vs. 10 on the B2. Put another way that one stop difference means the B2 runs one number above what a 500 W/s mains or battery Profoto head would say on the back in the 2–10 range. Not really much except for when you absolutely need that last stop which is a lot more rare than you would think. Since the B2 has High shutter speed sync for most major brands of cameras (and growing) one of the typical reasons one wants tons of power outdoors goes away in many cases. Indoors? I’ve not needed a ton of power since I was shooting 50 ISO film.

Let’s also talk about number of flashes per battery (which are very small and very light and for once prices affordably given Profoto’s propensity to price things sky high). The 250+ full power flashes the B2 is rated at seems realistic or maybe even a little understated based on my real world experience. The reality is that’s 500 at “9”, 1000 at “8”, 2000 at “7”… You get the idea. My typical use is around 5–7 so I’ve never used an entire battery in any given session. What’s more is you can charge while shooting if an outlet is convenient. In my own reality that’s a mixed bag when shooting various indoor and outdoor locations. Couple that with an extra battery and you are good to go forever.

The size sweetspot I mentioned above. It’s really not just the size of the B2 package and it’s similarity to a speedlight once you add in a radio, external battery, umbrella adaptor, or whatever other adaptor you’ll need to mount modifiers and gain positioning flexibility. It’s that the head itself is so light without the battery and flash generating stuff inside the head itself. This translates to far less weight/size that you need to carry along with you in terms of stands or other grip. It also means it’s easy to position even without stands and other stuff. Any one can hold it on the end of a pole for extended periods. Heck you can mount it to anything with a small clamp. Tree branches, almost anything protruding from indoor ceilings, floor lamps, ladders, chairs, etc. If you travel without assistants it’s the stands and grip that are killers more than anything else. Try mounting a monolight like a B1/D1/D2 or anything like that with a clamp. Try getting a normal person to hold a B1/D1 out on a stick for more than 3 seconds.

End Notes

Image shot with the XT-1 and 55–200mm XF Zoom. Lighting via Profoto D2 and 33" Profoto umbrella S white that’s 5 feet away. and a silver reflector. Processing via Lightroom CC with the ProNeg Standard profile. Yep, got a few ridiculously overpriced Profoto S regular umbrellas (got them for free) and I use them a lot. More later on the whole umbrella thing and how underrated they are with everyone wanting to use huge octa’s etc etc etc. I’m personally a giant fan of umbrellas, bare heads, plain old reflectors dishes of varying smallish sizes, silks, etc. Sure boxes are useful sometimes but all the “shortcomings” of umbrellas can be looked at the other way too.